Cholesterol and Polyunsaturated Fats

CrossFit Fire - Book - Cholesterol Myths

Garth posted a comment earlier today, asking for some reading material to further explain the health benefits of cholesterol and the potential cancerous effects of polyunsaturated fats.

First, find a copy of The Cholesterol Myths by Uffe Ravnskov and give it a good read. Not only does it cover the topic of cholesterol, but it also gives one a better understanding of polyunsaturated fats. I'm flipping through my copy while typing this and chapters 6 and 7 both thoroughly cover the cancerous polyunsaturated fat.

In addition to that book, here are a few links to get you started:
Dr. Groves
Ray Peat
More Ray Peat

Finally, if you want to try your hand at digging up the studies themselves, head on over to: pubmed.

To summarize, cholesterol is required of all cells in your body. Cholesterol gives cells their rigidity. Without any cholesterol, you would be a big pile of goop on the floor. On the contrary, polyunsaturated fats are highly unstable and weaken the integrity of our cells, thus suppressing our immune system's ability to protect us against the daily attack that we are under.

My Response to Zach

CrossFit Fire Email

The loveable, huggable Zach recently sent me this email:

Did you read the recent blogs on Whole Health Source about the affects of the GI?  I am curious about your thoughts.

After giving it some thought, I sent him this reply:

I agree, the spikes aren't the problem, it is the constant elevation that is the problem. This is why we pay little attention to blood glucose levels and oral glucose tests. Instead, we monitor the HbA1c level to determine if we are insulin resistant and in danger of becoming ill.
His argument is rubbish though. He uses the Kitavans as an example, knowing full well that people will misinterpret that. Someone will see what he is saying about high-GI foods, 70% of calories from carbs, and automatically assume that a high carb diet is healthy.
Go ahead, consume our Westernized food in a similar macro nutrient ratio and see how you fare. The thing with the Kitavans is that they get ALL of their carbs from sweet potatoes, yams, and some fruit. Fruit that hasn't been genetically bred to be sweeter than mother nature intended. They round the rest of their diet out with coconut products and fish. This results in significant doses of saturated fats and omega-3s. Another thing it also results in though is elevated triglyceride levels as well as an elevated total cholesterol. Once again, this supports the argument that cholesterol is actually a good thing when metabolic syndrome is not present.
It gets better though. The Kitavans live near the equator and don't wear much in the way of clothing. Do a google image search to see what I mean ;) This ensures that they get plenty of sunlight which in turn produce ample supplies of vitamin D. There is current research out there pointing to high vitamin D levels being a preventer of almost any illness you can think of. This is why I started taking a vitamin D3 supplement every single day.
Let's take their location a step further. They don't just live near the equator, but rather on an island near the equator. Living on a non-Westernized island means that the locals must always live within the food production capacity of their island. At times, there will be excess and at other times, there will be hunger. This results in a naturally calorie restricted diet when averaged out. Talk to Jennie about calorie restriction or go to this link to read about it for yourself (
Simply put, calorie restriction, coupled with intermittent fasting, limits the development of insulin resistance, pretty much independent of macro nutrient ratios. A calorie restricted diet is very hard to maintain though. Carbs are a very cheap fuel source and cause cravings, plain and simple. People have reported of dreaming of food on a regular basis when doing the CR diet.
Living in a constant abundance of food like we do makes it all that much harder to make calorie restriction a lifelong thing. You will cave to those cravings more times than not. I suggest moving to non-Westernized island if you want to give calorie restriction a shot.
There's another solution though! Introduce yourself to a ketogenic diet instead. That is, reduce the carb intake to a low enough level and your body will be forced to produce ketone bodies for fuel. Studies have found ketogenic diets to have similar effects on insulin resistance to severe calorie restriction.
I have always supported the idea that different people can thrive on different things. There is no singular route to health and longevity. When given the choice between a high-fat, ketogenic diet or a "balanced", calorie restricted diet, I will choose to "dump the carbs and pile on the lard" every single time. I don't have any interest in living life on the brink of starvation. "

In a nutshell, there is no singular way to achieve anything. Find what works best for you in achieving your goals and roll with it.

I Know, I’m Weird!

As I sit down to type this, I don't have a clear direction for this post. I am going to do some stream of thought typing and let the story tell itself.

I just wanted to give you a heads up on my personal nutrition/lifestyle. I read a LOT and spend even more time just thinking. My mind is always going a million miles an hour and I love to experiment on myself; and others if they are up to the task. I have this insatiable appetite for knowledge and am always trying to learn and grow as much as I can.

With that being said, I am sure you have all heard CrossFit's general stance on nutrition. If not, here it is:

"Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar."

This is what I began to transition to when I first found CrossFit. You see, I came to CrossFit via T-Nation (a bodybuilding forum) and thought "eating clean" meant egg whites and oatmeal with berries for breakfast, turkey breast on whole wheat bread for lunch, and boneless, skinless, flavorless chicken breasts with brown rice and broccoli for dinner. In between, I had to be sure to eat several small snacks so that my metabolism wouldn't slow down!

At the time, the change seemed extreme, but I had done my research and it seemed to make sense to me. I began to eat a ton of lean meats, tuna, almonds, fresh veggies, and fruit. I tinkered with the ratios from time to time, but just never felt right. I would go through periods of intense carb cravings or even worse, stomach cramps, aches, bloatedness, and just all around general unpleasantness. I "knew" what I was doing was "healthy" so I did everything I could to bear it out, hoping that my body would stop revolting and begin thriving on it. This was very difficult to adhere to though when I was in discomfort more often than not. At the same time, I never stopped researching nutritional topics. I continued to explore new ideas and even played with the idea of jumping off of the "Paleo" bandwagon.

Long story short, I have arrived at a new resting point in my journey and I most certainly did not arrive here overnight. It is at this place though that I have developed my own creed and it goes something like this:

"With intermittent fasting, eat loads of saturated fats, some animal protein, little in season starchy vegetables, little in season fruit, and no polyunsaturated fats, all while being sure to get out in the sun, supplementing with vitamin D3, CrossFitting, and sleeping 9 hours a night."

This certainly isn't written in stone and will probably continue to grow with me, well into the future. For now though, it is working and I feel better than I have in years.


It’s true, life IS a journey

CrossFit Fire Long Journey

When it comes to nutrition, we preach lifestyle changes, not diets. This is because diets are generally viewed as being short term, quick fixes. When you diet, you are changing things up to reach a desired goal and then you will return to your old habits (i.e. your lifestyle). This is OK if your goal is also temporary. For most of us though, our nutritional goals are things we would like to have for a lifetime, not just here and there. Therefore, to accomplish these goals, we must make changes with plans of sticking to them for the long haul.

I know it is easier said than done, but try not to be overwhelmed. Change, especially change of the magnitude we are calling for, can be very daunting. It doesn't have to be though. If need be, break the journey into smaller, more manageable pieces.

But be warned...

There are a few potential pitfalls associated with smaller steps.

  1. Taking small steps will produce slower results which can be discouraging for some.
  2. Small steps require continuous action. You can't take a small step and then put off taking another small step. You have to keep taking step after step so that they add up to the larger change we are seeking.

There you have it. After setting your goals and finding the path you must travel to get there, it will be up to you to decide wether you want to hit the road running or slow it down a bit and start with a gentler walk. Being a CrossFitter, I am pretty sure I already know the route most of you will take ;)


CrossFit Fire Goal

Being that we are going to be talking nutrition on Saturday, now seems like as good of time as any to talk about having a goal. Goals are important for several reasons, but as it applies to your nutrition, your goal will serve as direction. Based on your goal we will devise the best course possible to get you there.

Your goal must have certain qualities about it though. For our purposes, your goal needs to be clear, concise, measurable, and attainable. Without all of these qualities, you will be guaranteeing yourself failure before beginning because you won't have a clear idea of what success is.

As for the attainable part, that is actually two-fold. First, be realistic with yourself and don't set the bar too high, too fast. An example of this would be someone setting their sites on being the 2009 CrossFit Games Champ when they can't do pull-ups on their own yet. Second, don't have conflicting goals. You can't get "heyuge!" and have the abs of an Abercrombie model at the same time. Decide which one is more important to you and go for it!

The Whole Grain Truth

Do you know what barley, buckwheat, corn, fonio, millets, oats, quinoa, rice, rye, sorghum, and wheat all have in common? That's right, they are all grains.

Now that we know what is considered a grain, let's take a brief look at grains are composed of.

CrossFit Fire Nutrition Grain Kernel

The entire seed itself is referred to as the "kernel". As you can see in the picture, the kernel is made up of 3 parts:

  1. Bran - This is the tough outer coating of the kernel. It contains proteins, vitamins, minerals, and most of the fiber. Sounds all well and dandy, but it is also home to anti-nutrients and gut-irritating protein constituents.
  2. Germ - This is the plant embryo and it contains a fairly dense source of fatty acids (mostly omega-6), some protein, and assorted vitamins and minerals.
  3. Endosperm - This is the germ's food supply. It is composed mostly of starchy carbohydrates, some protein, and little in the way of vitamins and minerals.

OK, we should all be on the same page now. Let's get to the good stuff, shall we?

There are several reasons why we so strongly recommend your avoidance of grains.

  • Insulin Response - Like all other carbohydrates, grains are eventually broken down into glucose which requires an insulin response. If your body's glycogen stores are full at the time, this extra glucose will be stored as fat. This taxes the adrenal system, the pancreas, and the immune system as well as causing inflammation. Besides, who wants to get fat?!
  • Phytic Acid Levels - Grains contain high levels of phytic acid. These phytates are not destroyed during the cooking process and block our body's uptake of key nutrients like calcium, zinc, and magnesium. Your body's ability to process Vitamin D is also reduced by these phytates. There is a reason why most commercial grain products are fortified with so many different vitamins and minerals.
  • Fiber - Fiber deserves an entire post of its own, but I will give a brief summary here. Contrary to what big business would like you to believe, fiber is NOT necessary. In fact, fiber can be an irritant to most. This is because it simply passes through your digestive system, scraping up the walls as it moves on through. Your body has no use for it. On the other hand, the nasty bacteria living in your gut, responsible for IBS, lives solely off of this stuff.
  • Gluten - Gluten is the large, water-soluble protein that creates the elasticity in dough. Our bodies respond to our ingestion of gluten with inflammation. Overtime, this inflammatory response leads to dermatitis, joint pain, reproductive problems, acid reflux, autoimmune disorders, and celiac disease.
  • Lectins - Lectins, by definition, are proteins which bind specifically to carbohydrate-containing receptors on cell surfaces and "do something" to said cells. The "do something" ranges from causing Leaky Gut Syndrome to Autoimmune Disorders to Lactose Intolerance.

Livestock don't handle grains too well either. Their fatty acid profiles become completely altered and they become infected with heat and acid resistant strains of E. Coli. A grain based diet requires plenty of hormones and antibiotics to keep the sick livestock alive long enough to be slaughtered.

There really is no "healthy" justification for consuming grains. They do not provide a single nutrient that you couldn't get in equal or even greater amounts from other foods and they wreck havoc on our bodies.

Nutrition Workshop

I am making myself available this Saturday, after the 10am Introductory Class, to share my thoughts on nutrition with any of you who are interested. I will put a sign-up list on the extra whiteboard at the Fort and I ask that you throw your name on there if you will be hanging around on Saturday. Feel free to get some skill work in during the Introductory Class while you wait.

Please spend some time seriously considering your goals if you haven't already done so. Your goals must be realistic, observable, and measurable while not conflicting with each other, if they are to be attainable. I would also like to ask that you get some measurements taken this week, preferably before class, as Saturday will be pretty busy.

Finally, I know I will come off as a dick saying this, but I must reiterate Jennie's comments from the other day and ask that you don't waste my time if you aren't truly interested in buckling down and attacking your nutrition. There is no minimizing the fact that it is going to take hard work and discipline to succeed. Changes will have to be made. Don't expect me to simply reduce your calorie intake. That's not what this is about. I have ample studies backing up the claim that you cannot out work your food consumption. Instead, we will be targeting hormonal changes through your dietary prescription (more about this on Saturday). I know this is foreign to most of you and maybe even a little unimaginable. I'm not asking you to believe that the world is flat though. I'm just asking you to have an open mind, be a critical thinker, and make informed decisions on your own. I guarantee that working with me on your nutrition will result in improved workouts and better body composition. There is no doubt that you will have more energy and simply feel better throughout the entire day.